Gang Starr's performance at Nation on Thursday night explained the group's longstanding street credibility with thoughtful lyrics from frontman Guru and DJ Premier's turntable skills.
The underrated, underground hip-hop duo began with a no-frills rendition of its first-ever single, "Manifest," from the 1989 album "No More Mr. Nice Guy." Staying true to a patented flow largely absent of inflection and heavy on articulation, Guru played straight man to Premier's DATless deejaying abilities on underground anthems "Step in the Arena" and "Code of the Streets." Premier later served as Guru's unassuming hype man on lyrically focused songs like "Royalty," emphasizing precise scratching and strategic pauses in the track.
The collaborative cut "The Militia" was the evening's flash point. Following a banal performance of "Above the Clouds," Guru and guests Big Shug and Freddie Foxx had the crowd signifying as if at a revival. Foxx's energy and rhyming intensity carried through two other Premier-backed tracks of unreleased material, allowing Guru a chance to catch his breath in the middle of the 90-minute set. Gang Starr ended with the more commercial "You Know My Steez," from the "Moment of Truth" LP, and the newly penned "Full Clip." Still, the consistent and prolific group--having produced five albums and several side projects in 10 years--illustrated the uncompromising landscapes of urban struggle and pride that have been a trademark since its debut.
--David Wall Rice
Very similar to vocalist Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves has successfully crafted a singular sound that defies categories. Her stirring performance at a packed Blues Alley on Thursday night solidified her position as one of modern song's best interpreters.
As her aptly titled new album, "Bridges," demonstrates, Reeves knows how to go past the boilerplate of stylistic conventions and head straight for the soul of any given song. Fronting a Latin-tinged quintet, Reeves's stage presence Thursday was less jazz club diva than urbane Mother Earth. Her big voice doesn't seduce like that of your ordinary chanteuse; it comforts with the assured warmth of a favorite aunt. Reeves's distinctive blend of balmy blues and sparkling optimism imbued Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" and Joni Mitchell's "River" with heartfelt conviction that never felt contrived. Even moralistic songs like her own "Testify" and Patsy Moore's "I Remember" escaped overwrought sentimentality as Reeves delivered the verses in an elegant conversational style peppered with succinct scatting.
With the R&B-, bossa nova- and samba-informed arrangements, the music came off more as smart pop than mainstream jazz. What could have threatened to become innocuous smooth jazz was rescued not only by Reeves's glowing voice but also by the quintet's musical flexibility and responsiveness to the singer's compelling storytelling.
Bad Company And David Lee Roth
Thursday's hard-rock bill at MCI Center offered what seemed like an excellent evening of entertainment . . . in 1978. Unfortunately, here and now prevailed during appearances by Bad Company and David Lee Roth.
Touted as the Original Bad Company, Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs, Boz Burrell and Simon Kirke creaked into the half-full arena and lumbered through 75 minutes worth of material. The quartet, which debuted in 1974, showed its age. Burrell appeared as if the weight of his bass might cause him to pitch forward at any moment, while drummer Kirke struggled. Ralphs's playing was passable at best. Only Rodgers, his distinctive voice not much worse for wear, seemed remotely kinetic, though his solo acoustic guitar turn on "Soul of Love" was dreary. The band touched on its FM radio staples "Feel Like Makin' Love," "Shooting Star," the opening "Can't Get Enough of Your Love" and the closing "Bad Company." True, they played "Rock and Roll Fantasy," but their lethargic set was all too real.
The headliners' reunion was enough to make Roth look fresh in comparison. In black silk pajamas festooned with neon polka dots, "Diamond Dave" thrust his pelvis, kicked his leg and careened through a cache of songs by his former group. Which means guitarist Bart Walsh summoned Eddie Van Halen's licks and Roth remembered the lyrics. It was mildly entertaining, but despite shouts to the contrary, neither of these bands was truly "Runnin' With the Devil."